I was recently scrolling through our Twitter page (I was not logged in, but rather was checking on something on our feed) and noticed that the link to one of our reviews was blocked because it contained “potentially sensitive” content.
You can, perhaps, imagine my surprise. While we are unabashed smut peddlers here at TSR, none of our content contains nudity, sex, or violence. We don’t even swear that much (only when it’s warranted). According to the Twitter help center, content may be flagged because I mark as that way, because someone else reported it as sensitive, or because of an automated in-house “technique” (that’s Twitter’s word, which I assume means “algorithm”). All I know is: it definitely wasn’t me.
The “potentially sensitive content” in question was a link to my review of the book Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall and included an image of the book cover.
If I’m feeling generous, I might assume that my book review is potentially sensitive because I use the word “orgy.” People might find the idea of orgies upsetting, I don’t know! (Erin’s review of Dino Stud by Lola Faust was also flagged as “potentially sensitive content,” and that review is downright tame, but does include the word “dinorotica.”)
Sidenote: When I was in 8th grade, my class went on a multi-day overnight trip. When I returned home, I told my parents about the 8th-grade shenanigans that happened, most of which involved a large group of boys and girls sitting in a circle on some beds. We might have read some sexy bits out of a book that someone had and all been very flustered and embarrassed. My mom responded, “Oh Holly, your first orgy!” My dad was like, “Why would you say that to her?!?!” At the time, I did not understand what she meant.
But enough about orgies.
Because I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t the word “orgy” that resulted in this book review being flagged. Something Spectacular is a queer historical romance about nonbinary characters, and my review is all about how joyfully queer this book—and these characters—are. The Twitter help center also consistently refers to the “potentially sensitive content” as “images,” and while that book cover is very very demure (not a man-nip in sight!), if you look closely, you can tell that both characters have ambiguous gender presentation.
My main takeaway from the current trans panic is that being joyfully queer is not ok. The logic seems to go: if you must be trans, please have the decency to suffer, silently, in the closet, so that no one has to see you or think about you or have their worldview about what a good life can look like questioned. Drag queens are a problem not because they are sexy or sexualized, but because they are joyful in embracing their difference. And books like Something Spectacular, in which nonbinary characters can live full, beautiful, open, spectacular, joyful lives (complete with marriage and babies!)—well, we can’t have that, can we?
I wonder if Twitter will flag this blog post as containing “potentially sensitive content.”
5 thoughts on “Twitter Algorithms and Sensitive Content”
Wow, that is discouraging. It feels as if the noose is tightening around romance and everything it has gained in terms of varied, open, and inclusive content. This Nora Roberts ban says a lot.
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Yeah, I felt really discouraged (and shocked) when I saw that. If nothing else, it really reinforces that me not being on social media is the right choice for me…
It’s the same as when Amazon rejects a review or shades it out because you might’ve used a word that they deem inappropriate. I understand not all people like romance or sexual content, but it feels as if society is getting less enlightened and more prudish, like we’re going back in time again.
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We can never figure out why Amazon rejects some of our reviews and not others! We’re already careful about not using certain words…the algorithm is mysterious. (Also, I’m pretty sure people who are reading reviews of romance novels want to know what kind of sexual content they can expect to find in said romance novels. You would think Amazon would be able to figure that out.)
But yes, it does seem like society is getting more prudish, especially compared to 20 years ago.